Sunday, October 27, 2013

One Year In

This past week marked one year since this council was elected - a good time to look back and see what has changed.  Major change in any organization, of course, is best achieved through small steps, incremental changes that over time add up.  And I think that we're approaching change in this way - making small changes that, over time, will result in a more cohesive, sensible approach to how the city is managed, which is council's main responsibility.

A large part of the mayor's campaign focused on the need for council to operate more as a team, and less as a one-man show.  That was one of the first changes made, and I think the results are seen as quite positive   The team approach can be seen in several ways.  For example, committee appointments were made by council as a whole voting on each appointment, rather than decisions being made unilaterally, and appointments being seen as plums handed out from the mayor's office.  Not everyone got to be on all the committees that they wanted, but no-one can complain that the process was unfair.

Communication within council has improved.  We're now all informed when there's an event going on that council has been invited to, which is nice.  Previously, I would often be asked why I wasn't at this or that event, and that would be the first that I would have heard of it.  Obviously, not everybody can be at every event, but having more than one member of council show up is one way of showing broad council support.

All members of council take turns doing the radio and TV updates every week, which is a big change.  It gives each of us a chance to talk about what is going on, and the opportunity to talk about the perspective from each ward, which provides a more complete picture to the public.

Council meetings, both public and in camera, are much more positive.  Discussion is open and respectful, and new ideas are tossed around, added to, and amended.  Votes are not predictable, which is as it should be.  For new councillors, who might have thought that the pattern that had been established over the previous six years was the council norm, it must be a relief to realize that offering up a different opinion or idea is welcomed rather than openly discouraged.

I think that a very positive sign is the open understanding that the budget for next year is going to be an even more detailed exercise than last year, and that the status quo is no longer an acceptable option.  That's the only way manage how to do all the work required, particularly infrastructure repair and maintenance, without unduly burdening the tax payer.  And the good news is that everybody on council now recognizes this need, and is looking forward to it.

The messages that I've been getting from the public over the past year have been mostly positive as well.  People are happy to see all the work being done on streets and sidewalks, and have noticed the reduction in bickering,and the increase in positive discussion, around the council table.

I've always enjoyed my work as a councillor, and felt appreciated for my efforts by the residents of Ward 3.  But this past year working with my colleagues on council has been much more fun - I only hope that we continue to look to improve our processes over the remaining three-quarters of our mandate.

"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success.  You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime." - Babe Ruth

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Back from Holidays

As you may have guessed during this time of prolonged silence on the blog front, I've been away on holidays.  Fall is our favourite time for trips back to Ontario to see family - the fall colours make it the best time to be there, in my opinion.  It's been a few years since we've been back in the fall, prevented by health problems and last year's election, and this year we had extra reason to spend time with family - Andrea has a September birthday, and this year it was what her family calls a milestone birthday, where as many of them as possibly (she's one of eight), get together.

We left the day after the September 23 council meeting, taking Via Rail from Saskatoon, arriving in Toronto two days later.  That weekend was Andrea's birthday celebration with her family, which we spent just outside Alonquin Park.  We rented three cottages, and five sisters, three brothers-in-law, two nephews, a niece and two dogs had a great couple of days enjoying the fall colours and the warm and sunny weather, talking, laughing, getting updates on jobs and kids, and just generally hanging out together, either on the beach, on the deck of one of the cabins, or around a campfire.

After the weekend, we spent a few days in Toronto, enjoying the city and seeing friends and more family in the evenings, before heading to my hometown, Fergus, for the weekend.  The next week we spent a couple of days in Stratford, where we saw three excellent plays (Blithe Spirit, Mary Stuart and Othello), before spending Thanksgiving weekend with Andrea's youngest sister and her family near Peterborough.  On Tuesday we boarded the train for the trip west, getting home late Thursday evening (or more properly, early Friday morning).

It was a very good three weeks, during which we were blessed with sunny days, and were able to touch base with family and friends that we see at best only once a year.  The comforting thing is that with everyone we saw, we slipped back into conversations as though we'd just seen them a few days before - that's one sign of good and comfortable relationships.

But, of course, I never miss an opportunity to see how other communities deal with things, in hopes of picking up ideas that might help here.  One of the changes in Toronto that struck me this time was the increase in the number of people getting around on bicycles.  They have Bixi rental bikes that are quite well-used, many of the streets have bicycle lanes, and the lamp posts and parking meters in the downtown area have tons of bicycles chained to them.  Most surprising to me, though, was seeing police and parking meter people getting around on bicycles.  Considering the heavy traffic in Toronto's downtown, it's probably much faster for police to get around that way, but it also makes them quite approachable to people on the street - something that we might want to think about for police and bylaw enforcement staff, particularly in the downtown area.  Mind you, we also saw a policeman on horseback going down Yonge Street one morning - I'm not sure if that would be advantageous here.

In these days of cell phones and the internet, I was never completely out of touch with some of my council colleagues, and I was able to keep up with local happenings as well.  That helps in getting back into the thick of things - in the case of council, it was back to work on Saturday, as we had a strategic planning session with Corporate Services and the Fire Department.  These sessions are a good opportunity to talk with staff and each other about various issues, and possible options for solutions can be discussed with those most involved.  I find that I always learn something in these sessions, and I'm glad that I made it back in time.

It's always a little sad when holidays come to an end, but I can say that it was a good, relaxing time, and I'm almost looking forward to putting on my suit and tie for the next council meeting, energized from my time away.

"Wherever I go, I'm watching.  Even on vacation, when I'm in an airport or railway station, I look around and find out how people do things."  Richard Scarry